Reflections From a Fight in Vegas: A Look Back 20 Years

01.09.2006 - By John Howard: The date was Saturday, September 6, 1986, and the fight card included Michael Spinks vs. Steffan Tangstad, Mike Tyson vs. Alfonso Ratliff, and light heavyweights Bobby Czyz vs. Slobodan Kacar. I remember as I entered the Las Vegas Hilton that night, I had to look at my ticket stub several times to be sure I was in the right place. The Las Vegas Hilton (check), Grand Ballroom (check), a boxing ring in the center of the ballroom (check), but hey, this looks like the venue for the Academy Awards of Porn, or I've wandered into a hooker convention by mistake.

Why is it when I host a pay-per-view fight at my house it ends up being an all guy event? Yet, at a big fight in Vegas, the place is packed full of gorgeous women dressed in tight cocktail dresses the color of a pimp's upholstery, spiky pumps, with enough cleavage to humble Pam Anderson.

On Friday morning, I left Oxnard, CA (the home of former World Champs Fernando Vargas & Robert Garcia) and checked into the Stardust Resort & Casino. Twenty years ago the Stardust was a hot spot on the strip, but has become a dinosaur in recent years due to all the latest theme type hotels. Late that afternoon, I attended the weigh-in held at the Las Vegas Hilton. Once in the hotel, I asked directions from an employee who had me follow him through the nonpublic areas of the casino and we eventually ended up on the stage where the weigh-in was to take place. Cool. For the officials, ESPN crew, sportswriters, etc., they had a mini buffet set up for the event. I kindly helped myself.

The weigh-in was uneventful until it was "Iron" Mike's turn at the scale. While the other fighters trash-talked each other and went into a harangue about how they were going to win by KO in some round, Tyson was strictly business. After his official weight was announced (221.5), Tyson then stepped back, and without saying a word, went into a double biceps shot that blew the crowd away. His eyes looked like shark's eyes. Piercing. I caught a glimpse of Alfonso Ratliff, Tyson's opponent, or in this case the sacrificial lamb, and he didn't appear to look very enthusiastic about his upcoming fight with Mike. About as enthusiastic looking as a condemned man in route to the electric chair. If I were Ratliff, I would have pulled a groin muscle on the spot, or came up with a mysterious case of the Asian flu.

Saturday night, fight night, had Bobby Czyz stop Slobodan Kacar in the 5th round for the IBF Light Heavyweight Championship. Bobby's a nice guy, and he's also a member of the high IQ group MENSA. I've met him twice in my life and he couldn't have been nicer. Once, I ran into him while playing blackjack at the Regent Las Vegas. He was Showtime's color commentator for the David Tua/Robert Daniels fight in July of 2000, which I attended. I chatted with him while making my $5 bets, meanwhile, Bobby was wagering up to $100 a hand. Another time, I ran into him after the Angels/Twins playoff game in 2002 at Fritz's, a gentleman's club near Angel Stadium. I reintroduced myself, we shook hands, and briefly talked the fight game. Bobby's one tough guy. He once went 6 rounds with Evander Holyfield. As a member of MENSA, he has a helluva vocabulary, too.

The semi-main event was Tyson vs. Ratliff. Tyson destroyed Ratliff in the 2nd round. He was lucky he made it out of the 1st. Ratliff had no chance. Even during the introductions, Ratliff appeared nervous, uncomfortable and awkward in the same ring with Tyson. Probably the feelings, say, Mel Gibson would have attending a bar mitzvah. I consider myself fortunate to have seen Mike fight during his heyday. From '86 through '89, in my opinion, Mike was "The Baddest Man on the Planet." At that point in his career, he would have matched up well against any heavyweight past or present. When he fought journeyman James "Buster" Douglas in '90, at fight time, Tyson was a 42-1 favorite! No one in the history of the sport, in any division, has ever been such an overwhelming odds-on favorite in a championship bout.

The main event went as expected with Spinks stopping Tangstad in the 4th round. Spinks will go down in history as one of the top light heavyweights of all time. Even though he made a late run at the heavyweight division with wins over a beatable Larry Holmes (twice), Steffan Tangstad, and Gerry Cooney, Michael "The Spinks Jinx" was not a heavyweight. That was evident in '88 when he fought Tyson and was demolished in the 1st round (Spinks' only loss). The Spinks vs. Tyson match-up reminded me of the match-up between Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. The guile and agility of Spinks was no match for the size and power of Tyson.

I returned to the Stardust and picked up my winning ticket from a sports bet, then promptly lost the money in a 7-card stud game. I walked over to the bar for a nightcap, and talked with a guest who claimed two people busted into his room and allegedly stole $5,000 he won playing blackjack. In the scuffle, the two intruders strangled him with the phone cord. You could see the marks on his neck and his voice was hoarse and raspy. The guy would have been pretty damn convincing doing a commercial for cordless phones.

There's no place quite like Vegas (the center of the boxing universe) for a fight.

Article posted on 02.09.2006

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